PHOENIX (AP) - A woman who survived a mass shooting in Tucson has returned to work at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office, saying she is thrilled to be there and thankful to be alive six weeks after she was shot in the chest and the wrist.
Pam Simon was wounded in the Jan. 8 shooting, which also injured Giffords and 11 others and killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. Giffords is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head at a Houston hospital.
Ron Barber, another Giffords staffer injured in the attack, has not yet returned to work. Gabe Zimmerman, who was director of community outreach for Giffords, was killed in the shooting.
Simon, a community outreach coordinator who worked directly with Zimmerman, returned to work Tuesday, helping organize a national art contest for high school students and responding to concerns from schools, veterans and the military, seniors and faith-based groups.
"It is normal as far as services to constituents, but on the emotional side we've obviously lost members of our Congressional family," the 63-year-old Simon told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Our hearts are broken that Gabe is not here, and his presence is very much felt in the office. He is a guiding light."
Simon said it was she and Zimmerman, 30, who showed up first Jan. 8 to help set up the "Congress on Your Corner" event for Giffords to meet constituents outside a Tucson grocery store.
Zimmerman teased Simon for being the first one there because she typically arrives at the last minute to everything.
"It was a nice, crisp, clear morning, and I remember driving there feeling happy we were going to do it," she said.
Simon partially credited her survival to her doctors, who she said told her they've never seen a bullet travel so far inside someone without hitting anything too important; the bullet that hit her in the chest exited her upper hip, leading friends to playfully call her the Bionic Woman.
Simon also credited a good Samaritan who helped her as she lie face-down and bleeding on the pavement that morning. She said a man who was shopping at the store put a sweater under her face and talked to her calmly until paramedics arrived.
"I truly am incredibly lucky, but I like to say blessed," Simon said.
Simon, who is married with a grown son in New York and a daughter in Portland, Ore., said she just can't wait for the day that Giffords returns to the office herself.
"We're very devoted to keeping Gabby's office going and we have a lot of faith she'll be back with us," Simon said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)